Newspapers and television news shows frequently report on injuries from attacks and fights on school buses. Bullying, shakedowns and thefts are commonplace. Some parents choose to drive their children to and from school rather than subject them to a few minutes each day on the bus.
And bus drivers cannot be expected to provide much in the way of law and order when their main task is to pay attention to the road and safely deliver their passengers to school or home.
Many school districts are turning to video surveillance systems to protect campuses. But they stop short of providing the extra set of “eyes” on school buses that can help to identify troublemakers and deny them future bus privileges.
Cameras need to be placed so that every seat on the bus is within the field of vision. In most cases, that will likely require a minimum of two cameras. The first camera should be aimed at the front entry to view students as they enter and exit the bus. A second a camera should be mounted at the front of the vehicle to allow a clear view down the middle aisle. On larger buses, it may be necessary to mount a third camera halfway down the aisle to fully capture events in the back rows of seats.
Student safety immediately outside the bus should also be a concern. Children are difficult to see as they walk behind or around the bus as they exit. Cameras mounted above the exterior rearview mirror on the driver’s side and at the rear of the bus can be shown live on a small monitor that the driver can check before backing up or pulling back into traffic.
There are several portable DVRs on the market that can record video from up to five bus cameras. Most have easily removable hard drives that can be plugged into a monitor in district offices for easy review of incidents.
Also, there are now IP-based camera systems for buses that can operate in areas where a wireless mesh network is present. These can allow central station monitoring of live and recorded video from all fleet buses. This type of system allows officials to take immediate action in case of an emergency instead of waiting until the bus returns to the yard at the end of its route.
And in addition to monitoring the students, the cameras can also be used by district officials to monitor the performance of the drivers. Other available systems on the market can interface with the cameras to record related data, such as speed and braking. In the event of an accident, cameras may also capture video that can prove useful in determining liability. Cameras can also be used to identify vehicles that illegally pass buses while they are stopped to pick up or drop off children.
Security dealers and integrators need to remember to include a service agreement along with any bus video system to make sure they continue to work as designed. After a number of serious incidents on its municipal bus line, the city of Baltimore reported that only 80 percent of its bus cameras were operational.
Ron Waxman is a founder of Montreal-based Frisco Bay Industries, a Stanley Security Solutions Company –and a member of SecurityNet, an international network of 24 leading independent systems integrators.